Sorry to keep you waiting so long for this new chapter of The Price of Pride. Real life got a little too exciting, but I’m back to work now. I’m sorry to confess that the release date is being pushed back, too, to either mid-December or early January.
I hope you enjoy this chapter. To refresh your memory, courtesy of Wickham, Elizabeth has just been forced into a compromising situation with Mr. Andrew Darcy, the vicar of Kympton, whom she believes to be Fitzwilliam Darcy’s distant cousin. In the previous chapter, she refused his offer of marriage, in the belief that what happens in Lambton stays in Lambton, so no one in Meryton would know she was compromised. Of course, it’s never that easy…
Mr. Andrew Darcy called at the White Hart the following day to inquire after Elizabeth’s health and to once again express his appreciation to Mrs. Gardiner for her assistance with the parsonage. Given his bruised face and somewhat stiff gait, Elizabeth felt she should be asking about his well-being instead, but she knew it would not be appreciated, and she was determined to avoid any playfulness that might give him the incorrect idea about her interest. He seemed a bit stilted at the beginning, but after the first uncomfortable minutes, he relaxed into his earlier affable manner. Mrs. Gardiner promised they would stop by Kympton once more before they left Derbyshire, and they parted on easy terms.
The following day the Gardiners and Elizabeth were away from the inn all day, visiting the Heights of Abraham and not returning until it was nearly dark. Even Elizabeth was tired by the long walk through the park, and she looked forward to a quiet dinner and an early night.
Instead they found a grim-looking Andrew Darcy awaiting their return. After paying his respects to the ladies, he asked to speak privately to Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth’s heart sank as the two men disappeared into the private parlor. The two gentlemen had not spent any particular time together in company, so clearly something was wrong.
Her aunt was watching her with concern. “It could have nothing to do with you, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth attempted to laugh, but it came out flat. “What are the chances of that? Can you think of anything else that would bring him to speak to my uncle rather than to you?”
Mrs. Gardiner hesitated. “Not immediately, but I also do not see what could have gone amiss to bring him here. If word had spread, how would he know?”
“I suppose he could not.” Even if someone had ridden straight to Meryton with the news, they could not yet have returned. Perhaps she was worrying unnecessarily.
“Even if worst came to worst, it would be a good match for you,” Mrs. Gardiner said with forced cheerfulness. “He is a good man, and his living is a valuable one. That parsonage will make a fine home once it has a woman’s presence in it, and you have said often how much you like the scenery here.”
But his last name would still be Darcy, and he owed that valuable living to the generosity of the Master of Pemberley, a man she never wished to see again. She could hardly tell her aunt any of that, though. “I do not wish to be forced into marriage with a man I hardly know, and I would hate to be so far from my family.”
Her aunt gave her a quick hug. “Of course, and I hope it will not come to pass. But if you have to live in that lovely parsonage, I assure you that we will come to visit you!”
A quarter of an hour later Mr. Gardiner joined them, closing the door behind him. His expression was grave.
“What is it, my love?” asked Mrs. Gardiner.
He sat down with a heavy sigh. “He has received a letter from Mr. Wickham, who says he is on his way to Meryton with the intention of sharing the news, but he could be convinced to change his mind in exchange for the sum of five thousand pounds. I am sorry, Lizzy.”
“Five thousand pounds!” cried Mrs. Gardiner. “Why, that is utterly absurd. How could that poor young man possibly obtain such a sum?”
“Young Mr. Darcy tells me he cannot raise that amount, nor would he pay it if he had, for Wickham would just keep asking for more. I could not argue the point; blackmailers rarely settle for one payment.”
Her mouth dry, Elizabeth said, “And if he had it, why would he pay it for the sake of a girl he barely knows? It makes no sense.”
“That is a very good question,” said her uncle. “He believes that Wickham’s motive is to damage his reputation rather than yours, going back to some old conflict, and that it has already had an effect. He was very frank with me, saying he was a difficult child, sent down from two schools before being educated at home by Mr. Morris, whom he credits with teaching him right from wrong. He says he has led a blameless life in London since then, but people here still remember him as a troublemaker. His parishioners in Kympton seem inclined to believe Wickham over him.”
Mrs. Gardiner took Elizabeth’s hand. “Will people in Meryton listen to Wickham? Surely they will trust you if you say nothing happened.”
Elizabeth stared at the floor. “I do not know. His manners are appealing, and he appears so very trustworthy… I believed his lies without a second thought, even when people suggested I should reconsider. And when I learned what he truly was, I said nothing. He was leaving for Brighton, and Jane convinced me it was better to let sleeping dogs lie. What a mistake! Had I exposed him then, this could not have happened now.”
“No point in rehashing the past,” Mr. Gardiner said. “The question is what to do next. He is willing to marry you, and seems to think that is the best solution for him. Whether or not it is the best for you is for you to decide. Obviously, the impact of a scandal on your sisters’ prospects is a matter of concern.”
A matter of concern? It was a disaster. She already had good cause to be worried for her family’s future. With this scandal, her family would be shunned, not even a tradesman would be willing to marry Jane, and mother and sisters would be destitute and alone after her father’s death. “I see.”
“For what it is worth, he went over his finances with me, and you could do much worse, Lizzy. His living brings in six hundred pounds a year.”
No matter how eligible he might be, his name was still Darcy. A lead weight settled in her stomach. She needed to know more about his connection to Pemberley and to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. It could make no real difference, since she could not put her pride ahead of her family’s well-being, but she could not bear to be ignorant of it. “I suppose I must speak to him,” she said.
“I think you must,” Mr. Gardiner said gently. “He is waiting for you.”
Elizabeth trudged downstairs, conscious of blushing as she stepped into the private parlor and shut the door behind her. Just two days ago, she had been locked in this very room, betrayed by a man she had once cared for, and with humiliation in the offing. Now she had to face an unwanted proposal, just as she had with Mr. Collins, but that had been quite different. Then she had been embarrassed for his sake and quite certain of her own answer, with little to lose. Andrew Darcy was a gentleman she respected, whether or not she wished to marry him, and she had a great deal to lose.
He bowed. “Miss Bennet, I thank you for joining me. You are no doubt aware why am here, but as I have no wish to embarrass either of us, I will not pose the question I came here to ask, unless you indicate you wish to hear it.”
“That is considerate of you. I do not know how much choice I have, but there are some questions I would like answered before I come to a conclusion on that.”
“Of course.” He gestured to a chair by the fire. “I will be happy to tell you whatever I may.”
“Forgive me. My nerves are too agitated for me to sit still.” She stood beside the chimneypiece instead, running her fingertips along the mantle. “You said once that you preferred not to have anything to do with Pemberley, yet I am told that Kympton is a Pemberley living, so I assume you received it from the current Master of Pemberley.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You are observant, and I suppose it is only right that I explain some of my situation to you. I was a dependent of the late Master of Pemberley, old Mr. Darcy, as they call him now, who disliked me intensely. When I was sixteen, he disowned any connection to me and ordered me never to set foot on Pemberley land again.”
“How horrible!” She had never heard anything but praise of old Mr. Darcy, first from Wickham, and then from the Pemberley housekeeper. But Wickham had proven his word was not to be trusted, and it was natural for a servant to praise her master. “Yet the current Mr. Darcy of Pemberley gave you a valuable living.”
The young clergyman spread his hands. “He seems to feel some sort of responsibility towards me. I have hardly seen him since we were children, but he does not appear to bear me ill will. As far as I know, he had no part in his father’s decision.”
“You are not close to him, then?” she hazarded. That would make it easier.
“No. After his father died, he made an effort to reach out to me, but my unhappy memories of Pemberley left me hesitant to have any more connection than necessary.” His shoulders looked stiff.
“I can understand that, and I have no wish to remind you of past unpleasantness.” Still, it did not sound as if she would be expected to socialize frequently with Mr. Darcy should she marry him. But sooner or later, Mr. Andrew Darcy would discover that Elizabeth knew the Master of Pemberley, so she might as well admit it now. “I have a confession to make. I am acquainted with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“You are?” She had surprised him; she could see that in his widened eyes, and he did not appear pleased. “How do you know him?”
“I met him when he was visiting a friend of his, who had taken a house near mine, and we saw each other at social occasions, and later we were in company again when I was visiting my cousin.” It was true, so why did it feel like a lie? “But I must be honest with you. I think it possible he would not be best pleased by marriage between us.”
“Is there a reason he would oppose it?” he asked warily.
She could not tell him the truth, but perhaps part of it would do. “He disapproves of my family. His friend wished to marry my sister, and Mr. Darcy advised him strongly against it.”
Now he looked worried. “What was his objection to your family?”
She dug her fingernails into her palm. Under the circumstances, he had the right to ask. “My father is a gentleman, but my mother’s family is from trade. Mr. Darcy also objected to what he saw as a want of propriety in my mother’s behavior and that of my youngest sisters, who can be outrageous flirts. He did at least allow that my conduct avoided such censure.” She could not keep the bitterness out of her voice.
He blinked in surprise. “He told you that? I had not thought his manners so poor.”
“No, not at all.” But how could she explain the extraordinary situation of Mr. Darcy’s letter to her without telling him of the proposal? “I overheard him say it to someone else. But it made me somewhat wary of being in his company, hence my questions about your connection with him. But perhaps you are a distant enough connection that he would not object to your marriage to someone of my disadvantages.”
He looked puzzled. “We are estranged, perhaps, but even I can hardly call my brother a distant connection.”
“Your brother?” she asked blankly. “Who is your brother?”
“Fitzwilliam, of course. Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. Did you not know?”
An awful pit opened in her stomach. “Your brother? How can he be your brother? He never mentioned a brother to me, only a sister.”
Andrew Darcy paled. “I should not be surprised. As I said, we have had little contact. I apologize; I assumed you knew who I was. It is not a secret. Everyone here knows who I am.”
Disbelief flooded her. “I did not. I thought you were a cousin of some sort. You do not look like him.”
“No,” he said grimly. “I do not.”
This was a nightmare. “When I visited Pemberley, there were portraits of him and his sister, and even one of Mr. Wickham, but none of you.”
“I expect my miniature was destroyed long ago,” he said evenly.
“And when you spoke of old Mr. Darcy, you did not call him your father.” She was babbling, but she could not stop herself. How could this have happened? She was all but engaged to Mr. Darcy’s brother. Good God, what would he think? She sank down into a chair, fighting the urge to bury her face in her hands.
“According to law, the late Mr. Darcy was my father,” he said icily. “That day when I was sixteen, he informed me he had purchased a commission for me. He was well aware of my pacifist beliefs. When I refused it, he said I could either take the commission or leave Pemberley forever that very day with nothing but the clothes on my back. As I was leaving, he disowned me as his son. I paid him the same courtesy, and I have not called him my father since that day.”
Even through the haze of her own shock and dismay, she could hardly miss that he was also distressed, his pallor now quite remarkable. “I am sorry that you were placed in such a position,” she said.
“I was not bereft; Mr. Morris was, in every way that mattered, a true father to me. But I cannot help but wonder at the strength of your reaction if my brother was no more than a casual acquaintance of years.”
Now she did put her face in her hands. This was hopeless. Her sisters’ future depended on Elizabeth marrying this man, but she did not wish to lie to her future husband, nor to expose the intimate secrets of his brother. There was enough standing between them without Andrew knowing she had humiliated his brother by refusing his proposal.
Perhaps she could still find a way to be truthful. “There was more, but it will not reflect well on either me or your brother. The last time I spoke to him, we quarreled bitterly. I had just discovered he had stopped his friend from proposing to my sister, who suffered grievously from his abandonment. I confronted him about it. He admitted it and criticized my family. I then taxed him about his supposed misdeeds towards Mr. Wickham – I can explain later how Mr. Wickham came to tell me lies about your brother – and he retorted quite strongly. We were both in high temper and decidedly uncivil. It is not an occasion I look back on with pride, and I daresay he most likely feels the same. I saw him briefly in passing the following day, and that was the end of my acquaintance with him. I had hoped never to see him again after making such a fool of myself.”
It was even true. It simply was not complete.
“I see,” said Andrew Darcy slowly. “Marrying me likely would mean meeting him on occasion, although I cannot think it would be frequent. Could you do that?”
She managed a laugh, although it sounded hollow. “I could certainly manage it. It is really a matter of an embarrassing moment in the past, and I would like to believe I have grown in understanding since then. I do not believe your brother and I will ever be friends, but I can be civil to him. I assure you my behavior on that day was not typical of me. I am quite ashamed of it, and I would wish to forget it myself. No obligation less than the present would induce me to unfold it to any human being.” She was painfully aware she was echoing Mr. Darcy’s own words from his letter to her.
The young clergyman was frowning, as well he might, no doubt questioning his decision to offer marriage to a woman who had behaved in such a manner. “Does Wickham know you quarreled with my brother?”
“No. He knew of our acquaintance, but not the quarrel.”
He nodded. “That explains one mystery at least. I could not understand why Wickham thought I could pay him a sum that is far beyond my means. He must have assumed you were here as my brother’s guest, and that I would appeal to him for the money. He said something about Fitzwilliam, but I paid no particular attention to it.”
Had Wickham targeted her because of her supposed connection to Mr. Darcy? That would be the final irony. “I assure you your brother would not pay a penny to protect my reputation,” she said with complete sincerity. Why would he help her after the way she had treated him?
“I hope that is not true, but in any case, I am in no position to ask him for a substantial sum of money on your behalf.”
“I would not wish you to!” she exclaimed. “If Mr. Wickham thought he could profit from my acquaintance with your brother while revenging himself on you, that is my misfortune, not your problem.”
“And for holding the living he still seems to feel he has some right to,” he said darkly. “As if it were my fault my brother gave it to me instead of him.”
Did he know the history of why Mr. Darcy had not given the living to Wickham? Elizabeth had already revealed altogether too much knowledge of his brother’s private affairs, so she chose to say no more on the matter.
The door opened, revealing her aunt and uncle. Mr. Gardiner said, “You have been in here quite some time. Have you reached a decision?”
Elizabeth exchanged a glance with Andrew Darcy. Had they? “We encountered a stumbling block when I learned he is the brother of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, who did not wish Mr. Bingley to marry my sister Jane, and I suspect he will like the idea of his brother marrying me even less.” For more than one reason.
Mr. Gardiner frowned. “Does this affect your willingness to marry my niece?” he asked.
To his credit, Andrew Darcy did not hesitate. “No. It has no impact upon my responsibility to protect Miss Bennet’s good name, and I do not need my brother’s approval to marry.”
Relief for her family’s sake warred with trepidation for her own, but she made herself smile as she said, “It is decided, then.” Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn would become Mrs. Andrew Darcy of Kympton, sister-in-law of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. Her heart twisted at the idea of seeing him again under these circumstances, but there was nothing to be done for it. Her family’s reputation had to come first.
*Abigail ducks a barrage of rotten tomatoes*
I do promise it will end up well, with Darcy and Elizabeth’s final union made all the sweeter by the suffering they endure to reach it. 🙂 But to make up for that angsty scene, I’ll give you a little hint of what’s been taking up my time of late, and it’s much cheerier. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may know that my cat Pip died recently, as well as our dog Sippewissett in the spring, so the Reynolds house has been feeling rather empty of late. But by next week, we’ll have two adorable new inhabitants, and here’s a sneak preview of them. I can’t wait to meet them in person!
Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think about the chapter, the revelations about why Andrew Darcy was estranged from his family, or how adorable you think the kittens are! Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with another chapter!